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Science

Dark Energy Is a Mysterious Something

the-pleiades-star-cluster-11637_1920
Photo: Pixabay

Dark Energy is a something that depends on which theory you subscribe to. For instance, it is either a cosmological constant that is a property of space; a new and evolving scalar field named “quintessence”; gravitationally active zero-point photons with the ability to curve space and time; or proof that Einstein was wrong (again). Whatever it is it’s not a form of energy we can detect; so known particles, radiation, and fields can’t explain it.

Supposedly 70% of the universe is dark energy, and this invisible something is thought to be responsible for the observed cosmic acceleration; i.e. speeding up of the universe towards infinity and beyond. For this latter finding, three scientists were awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics. One laureate in particular, Brian Schmidt, lectured an astronomy class at the Australian National University attended by yours truly. Professor Schmidt is a good orator, above political average to be sure.

How the density of dark energy behaves as space expands is thought to provide some clues as to what it might be, or at the very least point towards which current theory best explains its nature. Two scenarios are of mainstream interests. First, is if the density remains unchanged with expansion; indicating that dark energy is part of space (constant). Second, is if the density becomes diluted with expansion; implying that dark energy is in space (field). Present observations suggest that dark energy is part of space; however that fact is not discouraging researchers from exploring the field explanation further, or other more radical possibilities for that matter.

Speaking of skeptics, there is a small but resilient group of theorists that have gone so far as to argue that dark energy is just “an illusion”; a product from when physicists apply the Friedmann-Lemaître-Robertson-Walker (FLRW) metric from general relativity to calculate the amount of expansion at any time. The problem with this approach, they point out, is that the model assumes that space is homogeneous, i.e. uniform, same density everywhere. Thus, in their alternative inhomogeneous simulation, the observed accelerated expansion is a result of “backreaction” that occurs when mass and energy warps space and time; which is in accordance with the prediction made by Einstein’s theory. So he was right! sympathizers cheer with relief. Not so fast! critics are quick to interject with gusto; pointing out the many quantitative studies that have found the effects of inhomogeneities on cosmic expansion to be negligible or very small. So no, “dark energy isn’t an illusion.”

Suffice it to say for now and for the foreseeable future, what dark energy is or is not will likely remain as mysterious as the mystical Force in “Star Wars,” and will continue to facilitate the formation or dissolution of coalitions; defending a theory on the one side or advancing its refutation on the other. Though if there is one thing all groups can agree on, and this is evident from the last paragraphs in each of their respective published papers, is that further study is recommended to unlocking the mysteries of this mysterious something.

Categories
Science

Snakes That Love Eating Other Snakes

kingsnake
Photo: Pixabay

Lately I have been thinking about snakes. This was prompted by the sighting of a python by my parents during a customary evening stroll on the streets of our gated community. They didn’t see the snake right away, to be sure. My mother saw the cat first. It was sitting on the sidewalk. When suddenly my father, with great alarm, exclaimed “snake! Snake!” My mother’s gaze traveled from the cat’s position a few meters back. Sure enough there it was, a big python, eyeing the cat. Dinner!

But I digress.

When I first heard the name Kingsnake I envisioned a majestic serpent. I was not disappointed; for they are a very colorful family. However, upon further study (read Wikipedia), I was enlightened to the fact that the word “king” when used as part of a snake’s name, carries the implication that that snake eats other snakes. By that logic, I assume King Kong eats other apes?

The kingsnake can be found in subtropical North America. They are constrictors by nature and eat other snakes by choice; only when food is scarce will they consider rodents, talk about condescension! What’s interesting about kingsnakes in particular is their evolved immunity. They are for the most part impervious to the venoms of other snakes within their locality; having within them anti-proteins (a word of my own invention) to counteract the effects of venom, a complex mixture of active proteins. Here, watch for yourself, as this oily kingsnake slowly gulps down a rattlesnake, whole and alive, on camera. It is disturbingly fascinating to watch. I don’t think I’ve cringed this much since season 1 of Game of Thrones.

Speaking of snakes and Game of Thrones, how badass is Ellaria Sand? Paramour of Red Viper, Mother of Sand Snakes, Usurper of Dorne, and ally to the Mother of Dragons. Recall when Prince Doran Martell realizes that Ellaria has betrayed him, and she stabs him in the chest with a tiny dagger, then pulls him out of his wheelchair forcefully, it is not unlike how the kingsnake in the video clip above used its mouth to clamp down on the mouth of the rattlesnake and drag it out of its nest, then slowly gobble the rattler from head to tail.

If you found the diet of kingsnakes interesting, than you’re in for treat, for yours truly will now slither onto (ha ha) the topic of their saucy mating rituals.

During the pheromonal months of Spring, a male kingsnake, upon coming across a female kingsnake, will perform a series of nonrandom motor movements (jerk, writhe, wave) on top of her. It is not uncommon for the male to repeat his moves multiple times before the female becomes receptive to his advances; at which point the female kingsnake will relax her body, and their tails will press tightly together. Neck biting is sometimes used as part of the courtship.

Aside from kingsnakes, there is another famous snake-eating serpent that you should be familiar with, namely the infamous King Cobra from the jungles of Asia. Unlike kingsnakes, king cobras are venomous, and immobilize their prey by injecting a powerful, incapacitative toxin via bite (and not the sexy Vampire kind, mind you). Like kingsnakes, king cobras swallow its victim whole and alive. These kings really like their meals served squirming don’t they?

As a side note, surely all this swallowing cannot be pleasant for the gulper let alone the gulpee. Though this copperhead snake might hiss otherwise, judging from the gusto it displayed while slurping down one of its own brethren, as if it were a fat string of spaghetti. A rivetingly disturbing image to be sure.

And speaking of disturbed thoughts, one that comes fast to mind is the lurking python in my neighborhood with the exceptionally large frame. It could be in my backyard! Indeed, the serpent (or as my mother now calls it Kaa, as in Kaa the hungry python from “The Jungle Book” animation), has put the entire community on red alert. Am I concerned? You may be sure that I most certainly am. But I think we can all take some comfort in the fact that there is no king large enough to swallow a python, whole and alive.